Halkin and Burston on the Israel-Palestine Peace Conference


Two perspectives on the Israel-Palestine Annapolis Peace Conference, one from the left the other from the right, sharing a somewhat similar analysis but arriving at different conclusions. Both authors contend the position adopted by the Palestinian leadership—whether Fatah or Hamas—is perpetual war against the Jewish state. The maximalist Palestinian political parties, their leadership, and the individuals who vote for them, refuse to admit—to accept—a strong Jewish political presence in the region. There is simply no place for peace or reconciliation with people who hold the belief that Israel must be eliminated as a political entity and that Tel Aviv is part of Palestine. As to the different conclusions drawn, for Burston the solution is that of the center-left and Labor Zionists, a newly formed Palestinian which accepts a Jewish state next door. Halkin is not nearly as positive in his assessment, contending the West Bank will be absorbed (occupied?) by Jordan.

Here is Bradley Burston in Haaretz:

My heart goes out to the Palestinians. Not only because their entire world has become one of despair, immobility, bloodshed, disillusionment, crumbling infrastructure, crumbling history, crumbling horizons. There’s also this:

Their leaders are even worse than ours.

Imagine the most pragmatic, the most moderate, the most persuasive, the most reasonable of their representatives, preparing for the first peace summit in recent memory, by attacking the very idea that Israel should be a Jewish state.

Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, declared Monday that the Palestinians will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Erekat was responding Monday to a series of strong statements by Ehud Olmert the day before, in which Olmert said “We won’t hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state, this is a launching point for all negotiations,” adding that “Whoever does not accept this, cannot hold any negotiations with me.”

Erekat’s response, speaking to Israel Radio, was clearer than one might have expected from a seasoned diplomat. So was the flat tone of rejection.

“No state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity,” he said.

Never mind the fact that the Saudis, sponsors of a peace initiative which the Palestinians hope someday to parlay into an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, are a theocracy of such sectarian dimension that tourists are forbidden from entering the country with bibles, crucifixes, or items bearing the Star of David.

Never mind the fact that leftists the world over can live with the concept of explicitly Muslim states teaching the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other explicitly anti-Semitic texts, while arguing that the very idea of a Jewish state implies and, in fact, compels racism against non-Jews.

The bottom line is that if Palestinians want a state – an actual state, and not just a fantasy, not just trappings but actual independence – they are going to have to reconcile themselves to the idea of an overtly Jewish neighbor.

The other paradigm, which has certainly gained currency in this decade, is to overpower Israel militarily, clearing away the foreign Zionist weeds so that a glorious, supremely non-Jewish Palestine may arise for the benefit of believing Muslims everywhere.

It’s not going to happen. The world has had its fill of the Palestinians. The Palestinians have had their chance. The Iranians would love to help them, but at this point, even their brother Muslims will not stand for it.

It’s not going to happen. The Palestinians are either going to have a state alongside a Jewish state, or that can choose to have no state at all.

[continue reading]

Hilel Halkin the New York Sun:

There is nothing intrinsically positive about any diplomatic process. Such processes work when potential points of agreement already exist and can be focused on. When they don’t exist, all the processes in the world can’t conjure them up. On the contrary, they simply create frustration, disappointment, and rancor.

And in the case of Israel and the Palestinians, such points of agreement do not exist. This is not, as international diplomacy and public opinion go on wishfully thinking, because the two sides are behaving like stubborn children who need to have some common sense cajoled or spanked into them rather than like rational adults.

It is because each side has perfectly rational interests and ambitions that are not compatible with the rational interests and ambitions of the other side. The only way to achieve an agreement between them, paradoxically, would be for one of them to start behaving irrationally.

What are Israel’s interests and ambitions? They are to emerge from the conflict as a state that is military secure; that has a safe Jewish majority that will be maintainable in the future; and that is not asked to uproot more settlers from their homes than can be politically or economically managed.

Military security means expanding the 1967 borders in key sectors and ensuring that any Palestinian state will be demilitarized. A safe Jewish majority means that no Palestinian refugee families will be readmitted to Israel. A manageable settler policy means that Israel will retain the large “settlement blocs” near and around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

And what are the Palestinians’ interests and ambitions? They are to create a state for themselves that, however tiny and unsatisfactory, will in its initial stage be as large and territorially contiguous as possible; that will have half of Jerusalem as its capital; and that can dream of eventually regaining more or all of historic Palestine by pressing irredentist claims as the Arab population of Israel grows and destabilizes Israel’s demographic status quo. A maximally large and territorially contiguous state means near total Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders. A capital in Jerusalem means Israel’s yielding much of that city. An irredentist dream means standing firm on the refugee’s “right of return” while refusing to accept Israel’s definition of itself as a Jewish state – a definition, among other things, that includes Israel’s right to have an immigration policy that favor Jews over non-Jews.

These interests and ambitions are not mutually compatible. No amount of diplomatic “process” will make them so. Nor is it the case, as the conventional wisdom has it, that the problem in Palestinian-Israeli relations is that both peoples currently have weak governments that makes it impossible for them to compromise. Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon ran stronger governments and did not make peace either. The strength or weakness of a people’s government has nothing to do with its strategic interests.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not be exactly a zero-sum game, but neither is it a potentially win-win situation. If one side wins by achieving its goals, the other side will have lost. If neither side achieves its goals, both will have lost. At this point, either’s capacity to compromise is extremely limited.

Like many conflicts in history, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not come to an end by means of a negotiated settlement. A viable Jewish state and a viable Palestinian state west of the Jordan River are not both possible.

The conflict will come to an end because the case for a viable Jewish state is the stronger of the two, the Jewish people having no other country and the Palestinians having Jordan, which will sooner or later re-unite with the 90% of the West Bank that Israel will withdraw from. How and when this will happen is impossible to predict. That it will happen is a near certainty.

[read the entire article]

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